The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 19, 2001
Defectors say Taliban
foiled a bigger plan
300 in plot, just 10 escaped, they said.
War With Terror
Afghanistan - For three years the Taliban soldiers conspired at night in
their mountain bunker, whispering code names on the radio to contact the
enemy across the trenches.
week, as the spies prepared to come in out of the cold and defect to the
opposition Northern Alliance, their plan was uncovered by the Taliban.
3 a.m. Wednesday, 10 of them made a dash for the front line with their
were supposed to escape with 300 people, but the Taliban found out,"
said Malang Shah, 25, the commander of the defectors. "If they caught
us, they would hang us."
defectors, presented to reporters yesterday by opposition commanders, said
that frontline Taliban troops were well-armed with tanks, rockets and
artillery. But morale has plummeted with the onset of the American bombing
campaign 12 days ago, they said.
and desertions have depleted the strength of the front line in the Shamali
Plain, a rich agricultural region along the Panjshir River valley about 25
miles north of the capital, Kabul. American bombers, punishing the Taliban
for harboring terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden, again stepped up their
bombing closer to the front lines yesterday.
10 to 20 days, because of the loss of soldiers, the Taliban won't be able
to defend the front line," said Satar Nyazi, 18, one of the
Northern Alliance, a fractious coalition of ethnic and political groups
opposed to the Taliban, claims that thousands of defectors have joined its
cause in recent weeks. There is no way to verify the alliance's claims,
and it has made few defectors available for interviews.
stories told by defectors yesterday confirmed accounts by alliance
commanders that many troops on both sides are in constant communication,
either by radio or through messages carried across lines by traders who
smuggle goods and fuel from Kabul into rebel territory.
Mohammed, the local alliance commander, said other groups would change
sides in the coming weeks when the alliance is expected to advance on the
we go farther toward Kabul, we'll get more defectors like these,"
said Gul Mohammed, who like many Afghans does not use a last name.
"Hopefully, much of the conquest of Kabul will come through
defections rather than fighting."
nation's 23 years of civil war, first against Soviet occupation troops and
most recently between the Taliban and former mujaheddin forces allied with
the Northern Alliance, have been characterized by duplicity, treachery and
betrayal. Troops dedicated to local commanders often defect en masse.
defectors said they were all from the village of Jamchi. They joined the
Taliban about three years ago when the Taliban advanced across the Shamali
Plain, cutting off roads and supplies to areas under alliance control.
were going up in the area, the price of food was going up," said
Shah, the unit commander. "We didn't have a choice."
of the stories seemed scripted. The soldiers all used the same language to
describe the Taliban as "terrorists." And all of them said they
were moved to defect more by their disgust at the Taliban's rapture after
the Sept. 9 assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance's
popular military commander, than by the threat of the American bombing
campaign. Such a response would appeal to their new alliance masters, for
whom Massoud is practically a cult figure.
were also questions about why the soldiers did not defect earlier, if
their loyalty to the Taliban was unsound almost from the day they joined.
said they feared the Taliban would retaliate against their families living
in Taliban territory. In recent days, they said, their families had moved
to Northern Alliance territory in anticipation of their defections.
soldiers said the Taliban commanders were foreigners - Pakistanis or Arabs
linked to bin Laden - or Afghans from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
They treated the local soldiers manning the front lines with contempt,
especially those from minority ethnic groups such as the Tajiks.
Taliban is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, who account for about 40 percent
of Afghanistan's 20 million people.
defectors were a mixture of Tajiks and Pashtuns, who live peacefully
together in many Shamali villages like Jamchi. Mohammed Khan, 30, one of
three Pashtun defectors, said the Taliban treated him shoddily because he
came from a largely Tajik village. "They said I am with the
enemy," he said. "The Taliban are very nationalist."
preparations this week were underway to lead the mass defection, Shah
heard the Taliban talking about him on the radio. His cover was blown.
heard myself that the Taliban knew I was helping the alliance," he
contacted his alliance commanders on the radio, and they agreed upon a
rendezvous point early Wednesday.
that they have crossed over, the defectors plan to take up positions on
the front line of the alliance, facing their former comrades. Shah said
the Taliban troops included about 50 friends who had wanted to defect with
him but whose plans were foiled this week.
a militarized nation where allegiances shift quickly, and all that matters
is which way the gun is pointing, Shah said he would not hesitate to kill
his old Taliban compatriots.
are my enemies now," he said. "I will shoot them if I catch